Monday, May 31, 2010

Finally...Brownies!!!



After baking some okay but not great brownies and then hitting a disaster with overly fudgy ones, I have been obsessed with finding a perfect brownie recipe. So I went searching all the usual suspects (aka dessert food blogs) and bookmarked some 20-odd recipes.

I'm trying to avoid chocolate here folks (or so my doctor thinks, ha!) so let's try all 20 recipes doesn't come up as an option. I noticed Two Spoons baking some brownies based on a Julia Child recipe and pronouncing them the best ever. And I thought, if it's Julia Child, it can't be all that bad. So I followed the recipe just as two spoons did, except I halved it.

First you half fill a saucepan with hot water. Add 110 grams butter and 90 grams chocolate to a mixing bowl and place it in the saucepan so it can slowly melt. At this stage, I opened my jar of caster sugar, found it almost empty and panicked. Then I told myself it was okay, the chocolate will take a long time melting and I could get myself some sugar in the interim. So I called the grocery store, made myself a cup of tea and settled for some reading.

Half an hour later, equipped with newly home delivered caster sugar, brownie making was on again and the oven was set to preheat at 175C. By this time, the butter and chocolate had melted but there were small chocolate chunks remaining. I popped the bowl in the microwave for 10 seconds and stirred everything to melt completely. To this, I added 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/2 tsp of vanilla essence.

While the chocolate cooled to room temperature, I cracked two eggs in a small bowl and added 1/2 cup of sugar. Whisked them until just combined, then added half of the egg mixture to the chocolate. The other half, I beat with a mixer until doubled in volume. I folded the beaten eggs into the chocolate and finally, sifted over 3/4 cup of flour and folded it in until just mixed.

I poured it into an 8X5 inch pan lined with parchment and baked for 25 minutes. Everyone warns against overbaking brownies, so what I was looking for was a dry top even while the batter still stuck to the tester and the whole pan was still a little wobbly. I know, it's hard for a cake baker like me to stop at this stage but Julia Child said so.

Just like my previous brownie disaster, these were very soft. Even when they had cooled to room temperature, I didn't dare cut them. Instead, I popped them in the freezer for half an hour to harden and they cut into squares easily. All the while retaining that essential fudgy feeling.

So call it third time lucky, but this is just the brownie I was looking for!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Notes from a Wedding : Manchurian

The Indo-Chinese favorite was a best seller at the wedding menu. Our chef made it once without the gravy for appetizers and twice for the main course. One time, I stood by him while he was cooking. You see, I had to. I've followed every recipe known to man, but never managed to cook good Chinese food. Maybe I'd have better luck with this recipe.

First you make the manchurian balls. You need around 2 cups of mixed vegetables chopped really fine. At our home, this included cabbage, cauliflower, french beans and carrots. To this you add a tsp of minced ginger and another of minced garlic. Now add 2 tbsp cornflour, a pinch of white pepper, salt and a tbsp of flour. Mix everything, adding a little more flour if it looks too runny. Shape into balls and deep fry on a medium heat until browned.

Now chop one small onion, half a carrot, a small tomato and 4-5 french beans finely. Grind 4-5 cloves of garlic into a paste (or just get yourself 2 tsp of garlic paste off a can). Heat 2 tbsp oil in a pan. Add the garlic paste and saute until it is well browned. Add all the vegetables and mix well. Saute for a couple of minutes, then add 2 cups of water. Also add a tbsp of tomato ketchup, a tbsp of green chilli sauce, 1/2 tbsp soy sauce and a tsp of vinegar. At this stage, the cook also added a dash of orange food color and a tsp of ajinomoto but both are optional (and you should add salt now if you are skipping ajinomoto). Bring the sauce to a boil.

In the meantime, mix a tbsp of cornflour with 1/4 cup cold water to make a paste. Once your sauce starts to boil, add the cornflour mixture and let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the manchurian balls and there you have the most popular Indo Chinese dish there is!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Notes from a Wedding

To all of you who wrote in with good wishes - thank you. And yes, everything at the wedding was just great and so much fun. Didn't I promise to be back in a week? That's because I had no idea how tiring a wedding in the family could be. Even when, technically, I wasn't doing a thing. We had so many people around the house to help with the guests - extra maids and guards and cooks and what not.

Still, I would need some time to get over the fatigue. So while I am not cooking anything new just yet, I thought you might want to hear about the chef I just mentioned. Yes, to help with the cooking for the guests, we had the chef from one of the clubs in the town work at our home for a week. And wow, what a cook! After every meal, he would have someone trooping into the kitchen to ask for the recipes. Not something he terribly enjoyed. But once I'd shown him this blog and told him that he'd feature here, he was happily parting with his best kept secrets. So, I present to you my favorite recipes from the food cooking at our home during the wedding days. No pictures because, well, how do you explain to a house full of relatives why their lunch is delayed!

Instead, let's talk about paneer pakoras. Not the regular ones, mind you, but this very special variety made only in Amritsar.

First you cut 200 grams of paneer into cubes. Grind 4 cloves of garlic into a paste, adding a little water and drizzle on the paneer cubes. Also sprinkle salt, 1/2 tsp chilli powder, a pinch of turmeric and a tsp of ajwain. Now add a handful of besan, just enough to coat the paneer cubes in a thin layer and mix it well. You need to take care not to break the paneer pieces so handle it lightly. Now add juice of half a lemon and a tbsp of chopped cilantro.
Heat oil in a pan. Mix the paneer cubes with the lemon juice et al, and drop into the oil. Cook on a medium heat until golden. The pakoras will be a lot crispy than your usual variety since they have just a thin coating of besan and spices.

To go with the pakoras, he made the green chutney I've been dying to get the recipe for. Here it is, for you as well. Start with a large bunch of mint. Tear off the leaves and discard the stems. Wash the leaves thoroughly to clean. Also peel and chop a 1 inch piece of ginger and a medium sized onion. Grind the mint leaves, onion and ginger alongwith salt, 1/2 tsp of chilli powder, a tbsp of toasted cumin seeds, 2 tbsp anardana (dried pomegranate seeds) and a tsp of sugar. Make sure you make it into a fine paste; you can store this in the fridge for upto a week. When about to eat, mix up equal quantities of mint paste and yogurt until well blended. And that's your perfect chutney to go with the pakoras.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Celebrations



That's my brother, about to be married in a few days.

I'm off to welcome my adorable sister-in-law into the family. See you in a week or so.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pantry Staples



What do you always have in your pantry. Beans and rice and spices of every denomination are standard in mine, but my answer differs vastly depending on when my last trip out of India was, and where.


My personal benchmark of a well stocked pantry is a situation where I can cook a meal I am happy about without having to step out of the house. Handy in situations when I get into one of these strange moods I was in last night - I don't feel like eating what my cook made out of the last vegetables in the fridge and I don't feel like eating out.

So I made this pasta. Set the macaroni to boil in plenty of salted water. In the meantime, I chopped and pureed two tomatoes in the blender. Before you object, let me assure you that tomatoes are not vegetables in my world - my mom's always told me that they are, like onions and potatoes, a staple. So we stick to pureed tomatoes, and also finely mince two cloves of garlic.

Heat olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and let it brown a little. Now add the tomato puree, a tbsp of white wine vinegar, a generous pinch of herbs de provence and another pinch of salt. Give it a stir, then add a cup of water. Cover and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes or so.

Your pasta should be done by this time so drain and keep it aside. Also to while away the time while your sauce cooks, finely chop a handful of olives and a couple of sundried tomatoes. When the sauce has reduced to half, add olives, sundried tomatoes and a tbsp of capers. Continue to simmer until the sauce is thick, then add the pasta and mix well. Top with parmesan, or any other hard cheese you like.

I had this pasta with my latest addiction : bread toasted then topped with smoked chipotle sauce and softened cream cheese.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pesto Rugelach



Sometimes I think of so many ideas at the same time. And then they take such a long time coming. Take this rugelach; I first thought I could make a savory version of this popular cookie back in January 2009. I thought back to the idea often, but it's more than a year later that I am finally baking my pesto rugelach.


The dough's simply 100 gms each of cream cheese and butter, softened then thrown together with a cup of flour in food processor until just combined or mixed with hand until just blended. Chilled overnight, then divided into four parts, each rolled into a circle. I spread each circle with pesto, then cut the circle into 8 wedges. Starting from the base, rolled each wedge into a crescent. Baked at 190C for about 20-25 minutes, my rugelach crisp and golden by then.

If you don't end up eating all of rugelach right away, it might get a little soft the next morning. 5 minutes in a hot oven fixed that for me all right.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Julie and Julia

Thanks to the recent Meryl Streep movie, everyone's heard of our book club's pick for this month. Julie Powell was the first famous food blogger. Back in 2002, when blogging was a relatively new, unheard of pastime, Julie set herself a challenge to cook all the 536 recipes in Julia Child's iconic "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in a year. She then converted her Julie/Julia project into this book.

Now understand that this is an enormous task. Julia Child taught Americans to cook French food, and the copious amounts of butter and cream she threw in every recipe are enough to scare most sane people. Then there are dangerous acts involving live lobsters and whole ducks. Julie surely had a mammoth project, and she tells it in a way that makes it sounds very real.

Yet, in reading the book (as in watching the movie), I found something missing. I thought the book was more about someone bored who's trying to get the spark back in by doing something, anything. And a lot less about someone passionate about food the way Julia Child was. I really wish there were more stories on how something tasted - after all, this was before the gorgeous pictures took over the food blogging world - but there seemed to be a lot more of "what a struggle it was to get this done".

That said, I know a lot about Julia Child's cooking after reading the book. Now shouldn't this inspire me to cook something special this month. It didn't - trust me, I had a few recipes shortlisted, but I got way too much awed by Julia Child to try any of them.

And there's another reason we don't have a recipe alongwith this review. I was way too busy creating a new home for the book club. Yes, This Book Makes Me Cook now has a blog of it's own. Here, you can see all the books we have read so far and meet all our members. Look forward to seeing you at the club.